Silage Season Safety

Processing and Packaging

It’s impossible to thoroughly cover all critical safety information in a short period of time. Be sure to always seek out other critical information and resources on harvest season and silage/silo related safety.

When you’re processing and putting up silage in any type of structure, it’s a complicated job, and potentially dangerous.

Silo Gas

Let’s talk silo gas—also known as nitrogen dioxide—for a minute. It’s a normal part of the silage making process. We start to see this gas a few hours to a day or so after a silo is filled—and then it’s produced for about 2-2.5 weeks depending on conditions.

Silo gas is produced in all kinds of silos—tower silos, bunkers, piles, bags—the biggest issue however, is when it’s a confined space. This could be in a tower silo, an adjoining room, the chute or in the space between silo bags.

In the air, nitrogen dioxide has a faint yellowish color, though in low light conditions you probably won’t see it. It smells a bit like bleach and is very irritating—even a few breaths can cause serious health problems.

Avoid silo gas, especially during that initial three-week post-harvest window. Treat a tower silo and areas surrounding stored silage as a confined space. Ventilate silo thoroughly—generally with the silage blower.

Get more information—entering any confined space incorrectly has deadly consequences.

Bunker Silo Rollovers & Other Issues

There are special hazards with packing a bunker silo. Some great detailed information can be found in these pieces on horizontal silo safety and Silo Gas and Silo Filler’s Disease. More information can also be found in the Horizontal Silo Management video series by the Division of Extension:

  1. Part 1 – Prepping
  2. Part 2 – Packing
  3. Part 3 – Covering
  4. Part 4 – Feedout

Tractor rollovers occur every season while people are packing bunkers and piles—It’s critical that you select the right tractor—it must have a ROPS (rollover protective structure) and a seat belt.

A wide front-end is also an absolute must. Front-wheel and front wheel-assist tractors provide extra traction and stability for packing. Duals usually increase stability as well as appropriately-placed weights. Backing a tractor up any slope is preferred—you achieve better stability and control.

On a slope, as you fill a bunker, make sure your packed, wedge-shaped surfaces are not too steep. We generally talk about a safe slope being 3 to 1 or something even less steep. On a pile or bunker that’s 20 feet high, you need a wedged surface do drive up that’s at least 60 feet long in the horizontal direction. Anything less, and you run a great chance of rolling a tractor.

There are many other precautions to take with your employees and family members who are working at this time, such as these:

  • Only trained and experienced people should be permitted to operate equipment.
  • Require all equipment operators to remain in their vehicles to avoid being run over.
  • Have workers wear brightly colored safety vests or t-shirts to when working in the area to increase visibility for equipment operators to see them.
  • Keep visitors and children out of any farm work zone. A packing operation seems cool and fun to watch – but operators have a lot to pay attention to, and the chaos associated with visitors and bystanders can be very distracting.

This post was originally developed to support a series of silage harvest-related podcasts posted by colleague Liz Binversie of Extension Brown County. This one is written to connect to the podcast covering processing and packing.

Photo Credits:
Silage packing pictures – Creative Commons 2.0 – Jesse Johnson
Silo gas photo from collection of John Shutske